Cheap Eats in Boston from A to Z
Imagine, for a moment, that you could extract the charred, crusty exterior of a backyard burger and meld that with the porky texture of a sausage. And then deep-fry it. And then smother it with mayo, curry ketchup, and chopped onions before nestling the entire mess into a brioche roll. So anyway, the Dutch and Belgians call this street-food snack frikandel, and you can find an awesome rendition ($8) by way of downtown’s Saus—no imagination required.
Boston staffers confess to their naughtiest edible indulgences with a huge dose of pride (which, not for nothing, rhymes with “fried”).
$4.50, Mama’s Place, gomamasplace.com.
“A great, half-melted chocolate shake is my Saturday ritual. Always chocolate, and always on a Saturday—calories, quite simply, don’t count on the weekends.” —Michele Snow, Designer
$6.50 for a large, Kelly’s Roast Beef, kellysroastbeef.com.
“The fries are swimming in a suspension of perfectly engineered yellow-orange glop, and the name of the game is to mow through the pileup before the sauce turns to rubber—or your buzz wears off.” —Carly Carioli, Editor
$6.79 for a three-piece meal, Popeyes, popeyes.com.
“The crust’s texture is flawless. I like to bite open a pickled jalapeño (59 cents) and squeeze the brine onto the chicken, which cuts through the fat, and, you know, adds a little green veg to the mix.” —Jolyon Helterman, Editor at Large
CHINESE FRIED DOUGH
$1, Great Taste Bakery, greattasteboston.com.
“The Chinese name (youtiao) literally means ‘oil stick.’ Which is pretty accurate: It’s a bread stick that’s fried to such perfection that you need a napkin the second you tear off a greasy hunk.” —Yiqing Shao, Associate Digital Editor
$2.50, Sound Bites, soundbitesrestaurant.com.
“Instead of crunchy hunks of potato, you get a creamy, griddled-till-golden brick of garlicky mashed potatoes that, semantics aside, is no-bite-left-behind good.” —Courtney Hollands, Senior Lifestyle Editor
Those who thrive on dining at off-the-beaten-path spots would be smart to bookmark Boston’s Hidden Restaurants (hiddenboston.com), an invaluable website from local blogger Marc Hurwitz. He surmises that he eats out 125 nights a year, scouring the Greater Boston area and beyond for no-frills, reasonably priced meals that score major points in the satisfaction arena. As fans ourselves, we asked Hurwitz for a cheat sheet to some of his current go-tos.
Five Hurwitz Faves:
INDONESIAN FRIED RICE
$10.50, 3 Country Bistro, Woburn.
“This savory veggie-studded dish from a tiny Asian eatery comes with a fried egg on top.”
MAC ’N’ CHEESE
$7.95, Winthrop Arms, Winthrop.
“Available by request, this off-menu mac features tubular cavatappi, a multi-cheese blend, and a beautifully browned crust.”
$13.95, Mrs. Jones, Dorchester.
“Available on Sundays, tender slices of turkey from this Lower Mills soul-food spot—with two sides and cornbread—are among the city’s greatest treats.”
$7.95, Kelley Square Pub, East Boston.
“A great rendition of an old-school appetizer from a very old-school spot in a residential part of Eastie.”
CAJUN CHICKEN SOUP
$3.95 a bowl, Cronin’s Publick House, Quincy.
“A very spicy and flavorful soup from a friendly bar located near the old shipyard.”
In theory, choose-your-own-adventure pasta shops—where you pick a noodle, sauce, and toppings from a run-on list—should be cheap-eats heaven. In practice? Not so much. During a no-holds-barred carb crawl with Salty Pig chef—and pasta maestro—Kevin O’Donnell, we were foiled by pitfalls aplenty: unseasoned fettuccine, wan add-ons, insipid sauces. But the day wasn’t a total wash. We found one place that nailed the concept—Bottega di Capri, where combos start at $6.50.
41 Harvard St., Brookline, 617-738-5333, bottegadicapri.com.
This protein-packed snack isn’t just for survivalists anymore, as chefs and purveyors take it to molar-menacing new frontiers. Three to order: Sarma’s slender beef slices with date molasses, fenugreek, cumin, and red pepper ($6); M.F. Dulock’s peppery ground-style strips (about $2 apiece); and Bánh Mì Ba Le’s sweet, thirst-inducing “meat candy” (our nickname; $10 for a half-pound).
Pad thai, shmad thai. Thai diners actually prefer this wider-noodled dish of chicken, scallions, egg, soy sauce, oyster sauce, sometimes squid, and always white pepper. Find quality renditions at S & I to Go ($7.50) and Pho Basil ($8.50).